Some of the Black Stuff, Please

Staying north of the River Liffey in a small studio, we made a quick trip of Dublin. Having arrived late on our first of two nights in the big city, we arose early to yet another new climate – biting cold with a whirl of wind as well. We enjoyed bundling up for our early morning stroll as we finally had a chance to dig into our winter and rain gear, which we nearly regretted lugging around for the past seven weeks.

We headed over River Liffey on Ha’Penny Bridge and into the Temple Bar district, Dublin’s buzzing pub scene; we had a hearty breakfast at The Merchant’s Arch pub which we had all to ourselves. I just couldn’t resist an Irish Coffee and Tarin enjoyed a hot cup of coffee with real cream… and a homemade scone of course!

We found our way to the well known landmarks of Dublin including Trinity College, St. Anthony’s Green, Merrion Square, Christ’s Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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We also carved out some time to see the National Archaeological Museum of Ireland. Here we saw and learned a great deal of the history of Ireland. Our favorite exhibit included some of the finest examples of Irish goldsmith work, like this broach used to fasten a cloak around one’s neck.

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As big fans of Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows, we took his Dublin advice for a lunch spot and it did not disappoint. We had a simple lunch of soup and salads at Bear, a restaurant at the edge of the Temple Bar District. Good food and a unique setting.

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The highlight of our time in Dublin was surely the tour of the Guinness factory at St. Anthony’s Gate, near the Liberty District. Here we experienced well designed tour which included audio/video presentations intertwined with machinery set inside the former fermentation facilities. The mixed media delivery was very engaging, not to mention the fact that we learned how to properly pour – and drink – our very own glass of the Black Stuff.

The Land of Flamenco

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

10:39 PM

As Nick mentioned in his previous post we were taking a lovely train down to Seville, this was our first time being on a train since the Japan Railway system and for us the ease of train travel is much more enjoyable and allows for a lot less stress when it comes to travel days. There isn’t the fear of losing a bag with the airlines, and thankfully, given all of the various airlines we have taken on this adventure, we have not had a single issue with bags! Major thanks to the universe for that statement. But, the calm nature of which trains are in and out, it’s something more desired to be travelling by ground (rather quickly, I may add). We did purchase a Eurorail Pass for the rest of the time in Europe, which after Ireland and the UK we will pick back up and use again for the remainder of our travels.

Arriving in Seville, we quickly realized how much warmer it was compared to Madrid and certainly Italy for that matter; it was startling because we had let go of our summer clothes and really only had fall and winter gear. Knowing that Ireland, with rain and cold, was just around the corner we did not take for granted the few days of sunshine and warmth! It was once again a very calm environment. The Spaniards do enjoy their siestas, with shops closing for three hours in the middle of the day and a continued sense of calm just as Madrid. We also know that Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates, somewhere around 20%, which isn’t surprising given that the rest of the global market works through the whole day…

We knew that Flamenco was born in Seville and while trip planning months and months ago we had pinned the Flamenco Museum as a must see, which also had a Flamenco show you could attend. I love to dance and Nick was more interested in the Spanish guitar, which Flamenco incorporates, so this was an easy yes for the two of us. Once finished with the museum, we landed ourselves at almost front row seats in this 70-80 person venue. We were told before the show started that this was the first and only flamenco museum in the world! They say that the final piece of flamenco is the audience, if you feel that a breath has been taken away from you by the dancer, you know that you are watching true flamenco. It was truly exhilarating. I love dancing period, but this is something I can hardly relate to, which brings such a sense of thrill watching a dance and listening to music so unique that it’s unlike anything you have ever seen or heard of. The show incorporated two dancers, one male and one female, who were both given the stage together and separately. We were both surprised as the male dancer evoked more passion that the female dancer. They also showcased the guitarist and then brought in the singer for a duet which was breathtaking as well. Hopefully our images will allow the story to come alive.

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A not-so Foreign Land

The sun is gleaning off the tracks parallel to our Renfe highspeed train en route to Seville. Small towns and innumerable olive plantations south of Madrid fly by the window as the train and our trip whir along. Having just popped in some headphones, I threw on Neil Young’s album Harvest to help me reminisce…

We just spent three nights in Spain’s capital city. We encountered yet another brand new culture but were very thankful for the ability to speak a little, I mean poquiotitito, Spanish. Having traveled to Mexico a few times, I have become familiar with the dialect of our neighbors to the south; while helpful, it’s also made it a bit difficult for these Spaniards to understand the version of the Spanish language I know. We give it our best shot and everyone we have come across has been incredibly gracious. Just this morning, while navigating the Metro station near our apartment in the city center, I had to ask a gentleman for help. My question yielded a puzzled look and the universal gesture of confusion – a shoulder shrug with the palms of his hands held upwards. I attempted again to ask my question, he strained to understand and then the lightbulb over his head shown brightly. He wasn’t sure exactly where I should be headed but asked some of his compatriots for advice when a well-dressed woman kindly offered to walk us to a nearby catwalk overlooking signage to our platform. We found the platform and successfully made our way to the train station. The people of Madrid had a very laidback and calm nature about them, something we found to be quite different in comparison to the Italians who, at times, were a bit overly-passionate. As Tarin has always maintained, “it’s not wrong, it’s just different”. The statement could not be more true about these EU countries.

There was no particular itinerary in Madrid, so we simply treated our days as we would any Saturday spent at home. We shopped at the supermarket for daily provisions including fresh produce, meat, eggs and bread. Mornings were spent trying to figure out how to work the coffee maker, a three pieced puzzle we likened to a reverse french press. We sampled churros (without cinnamon and sugar) which is a morning snack dipped in coffee or hot chocolate in Spain. We stopped to sip on local beers and wine while feasting on tapas as we strolled the city streets. Our AirB&B host, Jose, was an older gentleman who had prepared an incredible amount of information which was separated into two spiral-bound notebooks: one for a sightseeing itinerary complete with a suggested route map and the other a collection of he and his wife’s recommended restaurants and markets. We made regular use of this info and found our way around the city quite easily. We found Madrid to be extremely walkable as most of the major destinations weren’t more than a 25 minute walk from our centrally located apartment.

We visited the Royal Palace, current home of the recently appointed King Felipe VI as well as the rest of the Royal Family. My favorite section of the tour was the Royal Armory which housed examples of nearly 600 year-old tools of war used to lead the Spanish conquest carried out over the vast oceans and seas of the world (turns out the world isn’t flat) as well as throughout Europe. It was quite interesting to see how quickly the materials and techniques used progressed from armor strictly war-purposed in the early 1500’s to plate armor covered in goldleaf, more fashion than protection as the weapons progressed during the late 16th century. The latter provided a physical representation of the rise of the Spanish kingdom in the 16th century; as a result of their gold-lust born out of their exploration in the Americas, as well as their conquest of Europe. The Royal Family’s use of their wealth was ever-present as we visited the rest of the 2800 room palace (only 51 rooms were available to the public for viewing). Each room presented a new form of opulence which the Spanish obtained throughout their kingdom. It was simply overwhelming to see how gaudy the Royal Palace had become in a relatively short period of time. Clearly, they needed a room completely made of porcelain (and I mean COMPLETELY – not even a wooden seam is visible), followed by a room with silk walls, hand-woven rugs depicting the Spanish conquest, and gold-adorned furniture, clocks and mirrors not to mention the hand frescoes upon the ceiling of every room. They commissioned the most skilled craftspeople of their time to complete this palace which represents work from the most well respected artisans of the 16-19th centuries. Aside from my obvious distaste (I laid it on a little thick, eh?) for the over-the-top nature in the construction of the palace, the Spanish Royal Family holds an important place in the documentation of art throughout this time period. Their concerted effort to collect the finest artwork and materials still encourages the youth of today’s Spain to carry this component of their culture forward as these works of art continue to be displayed and made available for public viewing. The collection was nothing short of impressive and the quality of workmanship was magnificent.

We awoke on our last morning in Madrid to learn of recent terrorist attacks in France, and we have started to explore the option of removing Paris from our travels. While it may seem like commonsense to avoid an area which has succumb to several terrorist attacks this year, we are left with something we began to hold very near to our hearts as we executed the planning of this travel: we will not let fear rule our lives or make decisions for us. Fear of not having something, fear of failure or fear induced by others cannot control us. We will not allow this to shape who we are or where we will be physically.

Stay tuned while we continue on this journey!

Half Way Home…

We have already been travelling for 6 weeks! After speaking with our loved ones for the first time since week one in Japan, we all agreed that is was hard to believe how quickly time has passed. Nick and I have been reflecting with one another and have been trying diligently to write in our journals. Most of our thoughts have been little notes about each place. It’s difficult to sit and compose thoughts when our journey has seen us jumping from one city or country to the next within a matter of days. As we have started to reflect on the enormity of this world adventure we now understand that perhaps we didn’t allow ourselves enough time between destinations, but through writing our blog and photographing our memories, we hope that our adventures will be captured and relived.

 

I am so grateful to finally have my best friend with me on my third overseas adventure, because I can finally share these experiences for years to come with someone who was by my side experiencing them as well. Unlike in years past, where I felt as though I was talking at someone when I would recount my travels.

We have encountered quite a few people who have asked us about our travels and Nick has graciously divulged that he hasn’t really traveled outside of North America; people’s common response is generally pure amazement that we have embarked on a three month world journey given that it’s Nick’s first international experience. Living out my personal dreams of international travel once again and being with the man I love – watching him experience the world – is something I have a hard time putting in to words. It’s truly incredible to watch your best friend light up over a soccer match, a historic building or a car for that matter. We are so lucky to have been able to carve out time in our life to be on this travel, and to have established the teamwork, so that renting a car and driving without directions ends up making us laugh and then finally sharing a drink to unwind. We are grateful for the journey which every passing 24 hours brings, whether it’s in the same country or onto our next destination.

One of the best parts of this travel has been thinking about our family and friends throughout our journey and envisioning them sitting next to us enjoying the moment. My Mom was passionate about food and I was passionate about eating her food. As I got older, her knowledge grew and her ability to create different cuisines continued to expand. In traveling through Japan, specifically, I had her in my thoughts constantly. Her and I would enjoy sushi as much as possible, often times when we were in the Seattle area. She even learned how to make sushi at home and bought Nick and I fancy chopsticks and sushi rollers. Now, we haven’t ever used them, but we still have them! Honestly, throughout this whole journey my Mother has been with me – she is with me everyday. Her support of my adventuresome nature and her willingness to live through my independence was always something I loved. I signed Nick and myself up for a pasta making class in Italy with her in mind, after all. Although she did not bake, regardless of the amount of subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) hints my family would give her, I have certainly taken that aspect of the kitchen on myself. For me, it’s my way of recreating her in the kitchen; a place where her and I bonded. So, what better way to learn a new skill than signing us up for a pastry making class in France?! We haven’t gotten there yet, but we hope to soon.

We have also been able to enjoy our love of cheese in Italy. My little sister and my husband will tell you simultaneously that you can never have enough cheese! When we were given plates of meats and cheeses all we could envision was our little sis eating her heart out.

 

All of the various salamis and delicious aged meats (Antipasto) has left us wanting to teleport Terry, Mr. O’Day himself, to enjoy a few pieces with us. Each time we have a new ham or a new salami all I can say to Nick is, “get your Dad here!”. We have had the pleasure of eating some fabulous cheese and meats in both Italy and Spain. I am in a personal heaven with all the various meats; pour me a glass of vino on the side, and oh my lord – we are in food heaven.

We spent a morning in Madrid at a small restaurant famous for their churros and couldn’t help but remember how Mary O’Day, Nick’s Mom, searched desperately for one of these deep fried treats during a family trip to Riviera Maya in Mexico last December.

Spain’s middle name should be Tapas, and their go to tapas is olives. Some may know of my fondness for these, others may not. However, just as Nick has turned me into a tomato lover, I believe Italy and Spain (and my little nudges) have turned him into an olive lover. As he has stated each time we are served a little dish, “goodness, I just needed to travel around the world to find a good olive!”. This is where his best man and best friend comes into our thoughts. On one of our first trips as a group we found ourselves in little Italy, San Diego; we ordered a dish of several olive varieties and that was the first time Tyler and I bonded over something Nick didn’t enjoy. We politely shared the dish of olives together and we have been olive buddies ever since! I hope you remember that time Tyler, if not…pretend…

Both Nick and I could list off several of our loved ones who enjoy their glass of vino or two! For those of you, please come to Italy! Please enjoy, in my opinion, the best wine in the world. And don’t forget where we live: Nor Cal is famous for theirs too, but the romanticism and this Chianti Classico is something you just won’t get stateside. We have both stated that we will return to Italy for their food and wine!

Thank you for your continued love and support through our life journey. We are so lucky to have family and friends to support us and our new marriage. We are so in love and are loving every minute of this crazy adventure.

The Aroma of Roma…(and Florence)

As we disembarked from of our last 10+ hour plane journey, we were thrilled to arrive in a country where we may know a bit more of the customs and culture. Italy is a country I have been to, so I was thrilled to be back and have a considerable amount of time in the two cities I loved after I first visited. This journey with my husband has been vastly different than any other travel. First and foremost, I am not travelling alone and I am also not guided by a tour group. My partner in crime and I have to plan every step, read every map and (try to) learn every language in a short amount of time in order just to eat and drink! We are grateful for our teamwork coming into this travel, and knew it would present new challenges but we weren’t concerned.

We spent three nights and four days enjoying the lovely sights, sounds and wonder that is Roma. We stopped and stared at the historical structures with what seemed like every turn. We had very specific plans in Rome including seeing a champions league soccer match (Nick will be posting later about his dream story regarding our Champions League game), tour the Coliseum, visit the Trevi Fountain, and of course see the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. All of which we accomplished with both of our dreams becoming reality. For me, the Coliseum and the history around the building was a piece of our visit for which I couldn’t wait. This was a major factor in my wanting to return to this city and it really didn’t disappoint. I was also thrilled to make time to tour the Trevi Fountain not only in daylight, but again at night. Many of you know that my personal passion is photography and I have a particular eye for night photography. Thankfully, I have married someone who is interested in watching me pursue my passions, so our second visit to the fountain at night was exactly what my photographers’ heart needed. I feel so much more passion when something is lit at night. I feel as though certain objects are best served when photographed at night – it gives the viewer a better understanding of its strength, depth and it offers more emotion than daylight.

Nick and I have always loved getting in a car to take a drive. We love to view our surroundings by wheels so when it was time to plan our travels, Nick was insistent on renting a car in Italy. We chose to rent our car leaving Rome headed North to Florence and drive the countryside to hopefully visit a winery….or four. We requested an Alfa Romeo, and couldn’t wait to drive an Italian car in Italy. To our dismay, when we arrived at the rental car company we saw a bright orange Jeep Renegade waiting for us. Seriously?! If this was the car, couldn’t we just drive our real SUV back at home? We sucked it up and realized we were happy to have our own transportation for the first time in weeks and were ready to jump on the road.  Now, some of you may be thinking, renting a car in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand ANY of the road signs, are you crazy? The answer is yes, yes we are. However, we are also very strong minded and knew that we could make it happen. Now this is where the teamwork comes back into play: Nick in the driver’s seat and of course me as his co-pi (co-pilot for those of you unfamiliar). We had the pleasure of discovering one of the most picturesque towns in Italy, Cortona, by accident. I wanted to visit a Tuscan winery on our way to Florence and heard about this town where there could be a winery we could drop into. We placed the City Center on our GPS and headed that way. On the drive out, we had not realized the town we were photographing out in the distance, was in fact the town of Cortona. It was as if we landed ourselves on a movie set. We only had a little bit of time in town as we were headed to Florence and were meeting with our AirB&B host. But, it was such a pleasure discovering a gorgeous place with no intentions prior to plugging it into our GPS.

On to Florence. As mentioned, Renegade was outfitted with a GPS, but it of course did not know the intricacies of the Historical District, which was the neighborhood we were to stay. So, I had the paper map in-hand to direct Nick’s every move as he tried to not hit the tourists, other cars, or the lovely mopeds who didn’t play by the rules of the road. It was extremely stressful leaving and returning to our apartment, but we came out every time safe and high-fived one another for not killing one another, or someone on the street.

We had a few day trips out of Florence (hence the car rental) to Cinque Terre and Modena. I had heard countless times that Cinque Terre was a beautiful grouping of coastal villages not to be missed and my tour book had also suggested a hike between the five villages. We didn’t realize until we arrived that two-thirds of the hike was closed and the rest of the hike was rather poorly marked. We were quite surprised with the lack of information available to tourists, given it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Even in the face of some unhelpful locals and the poorly marked signage, we still enjoyed our cliff drive through three of the villages and had an ocean-side picnic lunch. It couldn’t have been deemed a bad day with those two pieces, just a different day than anticipated. Modena was our next day trip, just north of Florence; the car buffs probably already know why we headed here but for those who don’t, this is where Ferrari and Maserati were born. Nick’s favorite car manufacture since childhood has been Ferrari, so this was a no-brainer when planning our Italian adventure.  Having this part of the trip was to be another one of Nick’s dreams coming true. He will be posting later about this.

We rented our first AirB&B apartment and really tried to use all of it. Even the 2×2′ kitchen provided! We really made ourselves at home, grocery shopping, eating in and enjoying our open windows and hanging out. It was nice to make a place feel like a home. We were in desperate need of some normalcy and I think we found it during our five night stay in Florence.

Given that Nick and I have a love for cooking, I knew that while traveling through these countries rich in food traditions, we needed to jump at the chance to learn the authentic ways. So, what better way than to sign up for a pasta making class! We had a great time, learning how to make three different pastas and three different sauces.  Our chef was a young gentleman who did a great job of explaining and giving us hidden tips throughout our evening. Nick was slightly disappointed that the company we chose, Mama Florence, didn’t in fact have Mama Florence as our teacher – whom he had imagined as an old timer who had been in the kitchen all her life \, showing us her home town traditions… and maybe even a little sassy to boot. Regardless of age or gender, the chef left us excited to make pasta, so long as we can import that to-die-for Italian Chianti Classico. Who would like an invite to our next Italian party?

Some are probably wondering of our post title:
Of my short time visiting Italy in 2009, I really thought this could be a place I could see myself living. After this most recent trip, realizing that every other breath from an Italian must include a pull off a cigarette, there is no possible way we could live there. It was an awful smell and very confusing to see such a developed country with blatant disregard for their own personal health, let alone other people or even their very own children standing next to them. We come from such a progressive area in the U.S. with tobacco laws in place which are in stark contrast to our experience in Italy. However, everyone smokes, so it really shouldn’t bother anyone, right?! It’s only everyone’s health…no big deal.

Enjoy the pics, we finally have some decent wi-fi and know that we haven’t been posting as much as we would like! Hopefully this fills your travel dreams.

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Palatine Hill Royal Gardens
Palatine Hill Royal Gardens
Roman Forum
Roman Forum
Vatican Museums, Hall of Geography
Vatican Museums, Hall of Geography
The Vatican!
The Vatican!
The Vatican!
The Vatican!

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Trevi love
Trevi love
Making dream reality!
Making dream reality!

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Cortona, in the hills
Cortona, in the hills
Cortona movie scene #1
Cortona movie scene #1
Cortona movie scene #2
Cortona movie scene #2
Cortona movie scene #3
Cortona movie scene #3
View from Cortona
View from Cortona
Rules? No, not for Italians.
Rules? No, not for Italians.
My man cooking me an Italian dinner, in Italy!
My man cooking me an Italian dinner, in Italy!

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Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre

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True passion to wine making on these hills
True passion to wine making on these hills

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ocean-side lunch
ocean-side lunch
We be learnin'
We be learnin’
We be stuffin'
We be stuffin’
We be drinkin'
We be drinkin’

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Our apartment Street
Our apartment Street

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The Pope was in Florence for the first time since the 60s visiting this basilica on the morning of this shot, we watched him zoom through the streets in his Pope Mobile.
The Pope was in Florence for the first time since the 60s visiting this basilica on the morning of this shot, we watched him zoom through the streets in his Pope Mobile.

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Santa María del Fiore Bell Tower
Santa María del Fiore Bell Tower
Santa María del Fiore, at night of course.
Santa María del Fiore, at night of course.

Opportunity Seized

About three years ago, dreams of travel to lands far away began to flood my mind as I listened to my future wife talk of her time abroad. I had a few ideas in mind, namely a visit to the land(s) of my heritage – I am a standard American-European mutt afterall. As dreams from the depths of my mind came to surface during long night’s sleep, other visions slowly became more clear. Eventually, the persistence of planning and the saving of money paid off and we were in fact able to set in stone an itinerary which would see us travel the world.

The beautiful game, A.K.A. soccer, is something that holds a special place in my heart. I played my first game as a youngster with my Dad as Coach. Since the age of five, the game has been a continued interest of mine. While continuing to dream of our travel, I felt as though I could not miss an opportunity to see the game played on the biggest stage so that I might experience the passion shared by the world over. Luckily enough, I was able to find a competition in the famed Champions League, an annually held tournament of the top teams throughout Europe, occuring during the calendar months we had planned to travel.

Of nearly equal passion to the sport of soccer, anything with wheels and an engine have always stirred my soul. In fact, some years ago a good friend of mine and I went so far as to purchase and begin making modifications to a late model Japanese car we had planned to race in the Hertz Hornets league near Marysville, Washington state. Our vision failed utterly and sadly we never competed. Thankfully, we are still good friends to this day as this pie-in-the-sky plan didn’t quite pan out and we ended up junking the car. I digress.

Naturally, very near the top of my list of desired destinations was Italy given their passion for both automobili and futbol. Morever, Tarin had never stopped talking about her love of the country – the food, wine, and people, not to mention the beauty of the architecture and land. Perfect, let’s add this destination to our list, I thought. The day-to-day itinerary would most certainly consist of food, wine and the typical sightseeing. The Vatican, the myriad museums and hopefully some of the countryside were to be included. An absolute for me was a visit to the land of Enzo Ferrari, the creator of the artistic and engineering magnificence bearing his last name. The sight and sound of these creations evoked such curiosity that I actually wrote a paper on Enzo in my very short lived college life. Surely I would have to visit the museum and perhaps I might have the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of one of these simply sublime creations.

Enter Rome, a massive city wrought with history, filled with people and the everpresent stench of cigarettes. We had planned a fairly typical trip including the aforementioned Vatican but I was most excited for an opportunity to see a Champions League game played between Serie A (top professional soccer league in Italy) team Roma and Bundesliga (Germany’s top professional soccer league) giant Bayer Leverkusen. The game was to be played at the famed Stadio Olimpico, home to the world’s first Olympiad. We arrived early to find a stadium of rather modern appearance, which was a bit surprising. True, these were the same grounds once used to showcase the very first Olympic games, but I had expected a much, much older building. My initial disappointment at the grounds quickly faded as the fans filtered in and the Roma team song began. None of the seats were used as every single Roma fan stood and proudly held their team’s scarf high whilst belting out the lyrics. The passion was palpable and I was instantly glued to the pitch and the players. The game’s first goal came at the two minute mark from a breakneck Roma counterattack via a throughball to the dynamic midfielder Mohammed Salah – he slotted the ball past the outstretched appendages of the Leverkusen keeper and the stadium simply erupted. Mind you, I’ve not been a lifelong fan of Roma but I, along with the true fans, exploded in a fit of cheers, so much so that I nearly lost my voice for the remainder of the match. The game ended with a Roma win as a result of a penalty kick awarded in the closing minutes of the match.

I was happy the team walked away with the win as I don’t think the Roma fans would be terribly happy, or civil, without!

Fast forward to our final day in Italy, spent in the northern regions of Modena and Maranello, land of the automobile for Italy. Of particular importance for me was a visit to the two Ferrari museums. The first museum we visited detailed the life of Enzo and his love of the automobile. I am certainly no expert of museums, but Tarin and I both agreed that this was a very well executed exhibit which included physical representations of his life’s work in the form of some of the most infamous models of Ferraris as well as an immersive audio/video presentation completed by a total of 19 video projectors and a surround sound system. The visuals of Enzo’s childhood and his prolific racing career were accompanied by the operatic sounds of Luciano Pavarotti, the world famous Modena-born tenor; Enzo and Luciano shared a friendship and admiration for one another in their adulthood as they were both hailed as the best of their craft and also grew up in the same region. This production playing out amongst the presence of the most beautiful cars to grace this earth moved me immensely, and left a feeling as though I had visited a world-class museum.

Enzo Ferrari Museo. The car in the foreground is the 1984 Testarossa - the one that started my fascination.
Enzo Ferrari Museo. The car in the foreground is the 1984 Testarossa – the one that started my fascination.

We then made our way to Maranello, home of the Ferrari factory and the official F1 Ferrari museum where I was delighted to find several third-party companies offering the chance to drive one of these works of art. I snapped up the chance and hopped behind the wheel of a 2009 Ferrari California, the “Family Car” produced by the Maranello-based design house. The experience didn’t disappoint and I had a couple of opportunities to open up the engine, even passing a slow-going sedan in the vineyard covered hills of Northern Italy. All the while, I had my best friend and wife in the back seat to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.

Behind the Wheel of the 2009 Ferrari California
Behind the Wheel of the 2009 Ferrari California

Throughout my time in Italy, I often thought of my Uncle Joe who had recently been battling cancer. He underwent a significant surgery to remove the cancer earlier this year and was healthy enough to attend my wedding, which was very special for me as he was one of two uncles who was always present in my life. Unfortunately, after the intense surgery and recovery to remove the cancer, he fell out of remission and passed away just a few days ago. He had recently retired from a physically demanding and long tenured career and I can only imagine that he had plans to live out some dreams of his own. On two occasions in as many weeks, I had a chance to live out dreams of mine. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do so and if not for my own personal enjoyment, I also lived these moments in remembrance and in honor of my family and my Uncle Joe. These experiences only solidified the need to truly live in the moment and take the opportunities life affords oneself.

And the Winner is…

As we round out our time in the Country of Tanzania, we have a lot to reflect on. We have spent more than three weeks in the so-called ‘third world’. It has certainly had an effect on us. It is evident that there is a lot to be done for equal opportunity and a truly democratic society to thrive. We realize that access to education and services like electricity, running water and even garbage removal which we take for granted are reserved for the privileged. More concerning, a fair voting process has yet to cemented.

We landed in Moshi, Tanzania three days before the presidential election – quite ironic given that we were looking forward to escaping attention on the political front during our travels. We were amongst very passionate people in an area buzzing with energy. Our guides were thrilled to be able to participate in the voting. They pined to stand in queue to mark their vote and their place in history. Our Safari guide took any chance he could to talk to other locals throughout our adventure to discuss who was in the lead. He had an absolutely infectious energy about him as he kept us abreast.

We left for our Safari on the day the vote took place. All throughout our drive to Terengire National Park we saw heaps of queues along the streets of each small town we passed through. Mind you, people had to wait in line in their ‘district’ to cast their vote. There are no absentee ballots here in Tanzania and most people don’t have a car. For most, this election day was a monumental task to organize their personal schedules to ensure they could participate. This was the first time in their near-50 year independence from Britain that another party was running against the ruling party. It was thrilling to witness the passion to not only vote but also the opportunity to represent their party affiliation; driving through the countryside, every other house was flying their flags of allegiance – either CCM, the ruling party, or the opposition, led by candidate Edward Lowassa. Most flags we saw near the towns of Moshi and Arusha were for the opposition: a blue and white flag with the hand showing the universal peace sign. As we drove down the road, kids, adults, almost everyone was all smiles while holding up their piece sign proudly. This was the signal of unity during our visit. It was exhilarating being witness to such an important time in their history. We couldn’t help but feel as though the opposition was going to win with all the support witnessed. It was clear that the opposition had a significant backing by the people of Tanzania – so we thought.

During the drive, our safari guide Mosses made us aware of the power which the ruling party exercised. We learned that the ruling party has been in power for the last 50 years with only three separate presidents. Mosses was very knowledgeable and provided a historical background during our drive through the many towns and villages. During the late 70’s, he spent over a year living in a cave with his family in order to protect themselves from shelling stemming from the territorial wars with Uganda. A harrowing tale that sent shivers down our backs. In speaking of the historic election day, he told us of impending conflict which he and many others anticipated; in the weeks leading up to the election, many boxes of fake votes for the ruling party were found in possession by election officials for said party. We started to realize how easily this symbolic day might simply slip away for so many hopeful Tanzanians. Nonetheless, hope remained on the faces and in the voices of many people we interacted with along the way.

As we finished our final day on safari, we asked Mosses if there was any news to share about the election. Clearly distraught, he told us that ruling party was slated to win. Indeed, it appeared as though the ruling party had rigged the election by use of the aforementioned fake votes. He did, however, mention that the ruling party had lost Zanzibar island to the opposition, but that this, of course, was heavily disputed. His final words about the election were extremely disheartening – he was never going to cast a vote again in light of this blatant corruption. As foreigners, from a democratic country, it was unfathomable that this could happen! This was the first time Mosses had ever voted and hearing that he may never cast a vote again, we realized that we couldn’t offer any helpful words. We decided not to broach the subject for the rest of the trip.

We were on Zanzibar Island for five nights and spent one day in the city of Stone Town. We noticed that we couldn’t see anything but the ruling parties’ flags throughout, which seemed quite odd given what Mosses had mentioned earlier. We were essentially in a European-centric resort with not many people around to discuss the election, which was just fine by us given the ferocity the subject demanded from Tanzanians. As we read a NY Times article trying to find out who did in fact win, we confirmed that the ruling party had yet to concede. The opposition party is fervently demanding a recount as they believe the election was rigged.

The ruling party has stated that they will hold a new election for Zanzibar in three months time but no official word regarding the country at large. In other, very disappointing words, to be continued for the people and country of Tanzania…

Apparently there are some who felt so disgusted and fed-up that they detonated home-made bombs in the streets of Stone Town on the very day we visited:

www.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/world/africa/zanzibar-tanzania-bombings-elections.html?_r=0

As you must realize while reading this, we are safe and sound and en route to Italy. News of this magnitude deeply upsets us, not only because we were in extremely close proximity to these terrorist acts but also because it seems that hope may be lost. We leave Tanzania with heavy hearts but truly hope the best for this country and every person we encountered.

If we were keeping score, it’s now Nick and Tarin 2, and disastrous occurrences 0! We have now lived through a Typhoon in the Philippines and a terrorist attack in Tanzania.

Sleep Tight, Don’t let the Elephants Bite

It’s 12am and I am fast asleep in our luxury tent sitting high atop the Terengire valley. The ever-increasing strength of Tarin’s grip on my hand wakes me to a cacophony of animals just outside our canvas tent. I quickly sit up and realize that whatever is making the sound, it’s LARGE and it’s no more than 18 inches from where our heads had just laid. We sit on the bed, hands held tightly, and prepare for the worst; I reach for the aluminum extendo-pole for our GoPro, anticipating that I may have to fend something off. We hear the beast ripping off foliage and chewing, all while a constant “thwack, thwack, thwack” against the canvas of our tent lets us know that it’s definitely on top of us and wouldn’t have much trouble dispatching our tent through the air. Suddenly, a deep and slow rumble from the beast’s throat echoes through the air. We spring from this near-certain death bed and decide that we should hide behind something a little more substantial. The rear of the tent is partially constructed from concrete, so we think we would be safer back there. Shuffling to and fro and convinced that this was it, we ride out a period of about 45 minutes when the animal seems to finally move on. We peer out of the tiny screen windows to find a small family of gazelle appear, almost on queue with the departure of the much larger animal we had just heard. This seems odd, we think – wasn’t there some sort of a snarling beast here only moments ago ready to kill anything nearby? We continued watching the gazelle, in pure amazement of these beautiful animals when in the blink of an eye, they disappear as fast as they had showed up. I continue to look through the window when I see an elephant trunk appear from the left, and grab a tree branch in search of food. It was then that I realized that terrifying collection of sounds which caused our panic was an elephant! The longer we watched, the more elephants we saw. At this point, our fear dissipated and turned to pure wonderment at this rather peaceful looking family of elephants. They exercised their muscle power to snap off tree limbs to feed themselves and eventually moved on. By this time, it’s nearly 3am and we crawl back in to bed in order to catch a couple more hours of sleep. We poked our heads out of the tent at sunrise and waited for our required escort (a man quite a bit smaller than I with a flashlight – watch out one-ton elephants!!!) and make our way to the main lodge to find our safari guide, Mosses, waiting for us. We tell him of our incredible experience and he assures us that we were safe. He then follows this period of reassurance with a real fit of laughter. “Bwahaha…Mzungnu!” he exclaims. He and another guide continue to laugh for a period of several minutes and all we can do is smile and laugh along. Welcome to the safari mzungus (white people).

Our safari was nothing short of amazing. We managed to see nearly all of the big five: elephant, lion, hippo, cape buffalo and the black rhino (never did get to see the rhino!). They are categorized as the “big five” not only because of their large size, but also because of their strong ability to defend themselves and their family members. We witnessed gaggles of  grant gazelle, tons of tiny thompsons, lots of lions, zillions of zebras and enumerable elephants, among others (we’ll have plenty more where that came when we get home)!

Perhaps most special were our sightings of the normally shy and elusive cheetah and leopard. It was my birthday morning when we spotted our first cheetah walking along the road seemingly careless to our presence. We continued to follow the cheetah for several minutes when our guide told us that this was an animal on the hunt; not more than two minutes later, the cheetah bolted on a pack of small Thompson gazelles and disappeared over the horizon – all tail and elbows. Later that day, we were bouncing along the dusty road when we noticed a collection of other safari vehicles huddled around a group of acacia trees. We stopped and peered through the binoculars to find a well-muscled male leopard sunning himself on the large branch of an acacia. Not more than a few minutes later a family of unknowing warthogs came just a little too close to this opportunistic cat and we watched as the leopard leapt from the tree and scooped up a days-old warthog! He brought his prize back to the tree and devoured the snack just out of sight, behind the tree from which he was slumbering. We finished the day back at camp where Tarin had organized a small celebration of sorts with the camp staff. I had already enjoyed a few Safari lagers and had no problem joining in with the staff as they sang and danced as their way of saying “Happy Birthday”. *Pictures to come*

The following day, we witnessed something that Tarin and I both agree was the most special part of our trip. We were headed down a well traveled dirt road when a leopard stepped out of the long grass to show itself. As it continued directly in our path, our guide informed us that this was a female. While she sauntered along, she would occasionally let out a deep and short growl – this, we were told, was her call to her young. We followed her for quite a few minutes but eventually lost sight as she stepped back into the camouflage of the grass. Our guide didn’t waste a moment, and pealed out towards the opposite end of the field which the female leopard had disappeared. We continued along this stretch of grass for 10-15 minutes when I shouted to Mosses – “there she is”! We noticed the mother first and not more than a few steps behind her was one of her young she had found in the grass.

                                                        

Mama and Baby 1

She continued along, still calling out. Just beyond a line of acacia, another baby appeared and all three were reunited. They played and rubbed against one another, clearly happy to be in each other’s company. We didn’t get a chance to watch much longer as they quickly made their way out of sight.

We woke before sunrise every day and were treated quite well by all our hosts. Coffee, yogurt, bananas and eggs were made available every day before we would head off into the plains. All said and done, we visited Terengire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorogoro Crater Preservation spread out over five days. It was truly an amazing experience, one that we are grateful to have included in our honeymoon adventure.

Monkeying Around

We departed the protected cove of our resort on Miniloc Island, each paddling our own kayaks. As we made our way out of the cove, we caught a glimpse of “Hiwa”, the resident three-flippered Hawksbill Sea Turtle.

Making quick time, we rounded two massive limestone cliffsides jutting out over the Philippine Sea to find throngs of tourists all hoping to catch a glimpse of the “Big Lagoon” on Miniloc. As the tides were quite low, most people were walking into the lagoon through the knee-high, crystal clear waters. Continuing forward we were greeted by an empty lagoon; the absence of boats and people milling about brought forward the sounds of the rainforest – teeming with birds and a rather mysterious jostling of tree branches. Just as Tarin started to say how badly she wanted to see the indigenous Long-Tailed Macaque monkey, I spotted one fishing at the edge of a limestone rock not more than a stones throw. We slowed our kayaks to get a better view when we realized that the tree branches moving about were Mr. Macaque’s buddies, munching on ripe fruits aplenty. The longer we observed, the greater the number we saw. Mom’s carrying their little ones, adolescents playing with one another and a watchful male (I am sure you can imagine how we decided we was a male) keeping eyes on us at all times. We estimated that this group was 20 strong. They never appeared too concerned about us floating along, all the while ooing and ahhing at a sight we had never witnessed.

We kept our distance so as not to disrupt their afternoon foraging but not without shooting some video. No recorded media can do this experience justice but we hope some of the serenity and beauty of this place is palpable.

Sweat, Mangos and Bottled Water

Local Spring Pools in Carmen, Crazy Picturesque
Local Spring Pools in Carmen, Crazy Picturesque
Oslob, Cebu with Bayani and Josephine
Oslob, Cebu with Bayani and Josephine

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We Swear There is a Red Carpet Under our Feet
We Swear There is a Red Carpet Under our Feet

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Toes in the Sand...err Coral
Toes in the Sand…err Coral

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We have had the pleasure of visiting the Philippines for the last 10 days and we couldn’t be any happier that we came to this island paradise. We started our journey by visiting the Island of Cebu and spent most of our time in my colleague’s home town of Carmen.  It seems as though the island never sleeps, there is constant chaos on the road and its difficult to imagine making a life here.To drive though shanty towns next to massive shopping malls was rather disheartening. It was difficult for us to realize and grasp the third world reality.

We thoroughly enjoyed our ‘family’ time in Carmen and couldn’t believe how many people came through to meet Rizza’s friends (us!). The home cooked Filipino food is to die for! We both agree it has been the best meal we have had the whole time while in the Philippines. Our last day with the family was spent driving 4 hours (in each direction), starting at 3 am to head south for swimming with whale sharks. Yes, you read that correctly, one of the oldest known and largest fish species on planey earth. I was, of course, nervous about the whole thing but they really are peaceful creatures who are not concerned with anything but the food coming from the boats. Our GoPro wasn’t working properly, so if you want to know what it’s like, YouTube “Whale Shark Swimming in Oslob, Cebu”. It was incredible. They were massive and made us realize how small and insignificant we humans are.

Our next island destination was our first ‘honeymoon’ spot – Miniloc Island. Imagine those images of thatch-roofed water cottages against limestone rocks with the jungle draping over, this is where we were for seven nights. It was only supposed to be five nights, but when a natural disaster occurs (Typhoon Kuppo) and the Coast Guard won’t allow boats to make mainland transfers you learn to accept paradise for an additional 2 full days and nights. Can you really be bummed? The weather wasn’t superb here, but the heat and humidity has been without fail. So, to ‘lay out’ in the sun didn’t need to occur in order to sweat and constantly feel the need to be in the water snorkeling the reef right off the dock. We certainly chose the right day for our island hop and picnic lunch on another island – since that day, all boats have been docked due to high surf.

We have had the chance to kayak, snorkel and play plenty of cards and dice enjoying our sea-view room. For the record, T kicked Nick’s butt in all but one hand of cards! There were plenty of naps on the white sand beaches and ample opportunity to drink the bar out of their local beers as it poured rain. We can look back and say we survived a Typhoon, in the classiest manner! We have been treated so well here, and have enjoyed our ‘honeymoon resort’ part of this trip, probably too much! Thankfully, we keep pinching each other and realizing how spoiled we treated ourselves.

Due to our extension, we did have to shorten our time in Moshi, Tanzania; and we are still hopeful that we will get off the Island and head out of Manila to catch our Safari on time. We will be meandering about the Serengeti during Nick’s 30th Birthday (Oct. 27th, for those who don’t know), so please send him lots of love for the dirty thirty! We will get that once we return to wi-fi, which may not be until we leave Africa.

Love, Nicholas and Tarin!